Silent House has one of the best possible setups you can have in a horror film shot in the sort of first person style. Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) and her father (Adam Trese) have gone up to a property they’ve purchased and are attempting to remodel with her uncle Peter (Erich Sheffer Stevens). Caught in an area without any cell service, Sarah finds that she and her father aren’t alone in the house. Someone is stalking them, slasher style, and she has to try and find a way out of the house before she winds up a victim of this unseen killer.
Presented in a cleverly edited way to make it appear to be one take instead of a number of longer ones (shot in 10 minute scenes), Silent House has so much going for it early on because of this setup. Remade from the Uruguayan film of the same name, but updated from that film’s 1940s setup for the American version, the film follows Sarah in her attempts to stay alive when a killer apparently has killed her father and wants to do the same to her for unknown reasons.
And for the film’s first two acts it’s a remarkably brilliant film; this is real fear and real terror come to life on the screen. For all the detachment of seeing someone try and escape from a horror movie monster in a slasher film, Silent House gives you a first person perspective on the whole process. It’s why the film works so well; it’s one thing to have good camera angles and quicker cuts to create tension. Silent House puts us right over Sarah’s shoulder as she experiences everything firsthand. We don’t know what’s going to happen and it feels like we’re right there with her as she does; it’s remarkable in that regard.
Elizabeth Olsen gives a good a genre performance in what is essentially the last victim role in a dead teenager film. She’s not given much to work with in terms of character; the film isn’t long enough to establish Sarah as anyone more than a college dropout working for her father. Olsen gives Sarah something more than just a generic genre character, though. It’s one thing to be chased by a killer; it’s another to have what feels like real terror in her eyes. If you didn’t know that it was a film crafted over multiple takes you could almost imagine it was done in one continuous take as there’s no break in character throughout the film. Martha Marcy May Marlene wasn’t a fluke if you look at Silent House as a test of her acting chops; she elevates this film’s opening two acts from good to excellent.
The problems begin when the film has to resolve itself. And unfortunately the film finds that instead of a more obvious solution that it’ll go for the surprise twist. While it is unexpected (which isn’t the worst thing in the world) it kills any momentum the film generates at this point. High Tension suffered from this same problem years ago; that film too had a great premise and great execution but with a similar lackluster and uninspired ending. Silent House has all the parts needed for brilliance but an ending.
With a better one it’s a remarkable horror film and one that could almost be considered a genuine masterpiece.
With the one it has it’s nothing more than a film that starts out remarkably well but can’t quite sustain the momentum.
Director: Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
Notable Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens
Writer(s): Laura Lau, based on the film Silent House by Gustavo Hernandez